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‘Magic in the Water’ (PG)

By John F. Kelly
Washington Post Staff Writer
September 01, 1995

"MAGIC IN the Water" is the kind of thing NBC used to serve up on Sunday's "Wonderful World of Disney": inoffensive entertainment that sticks to well-worn grooves, can be enjoyed by the entire family and has a feel-good message at the end. Twenty years ago it might have had a widowed mom and a young Jodie Foster. Today it's got a divorced dad played by Mark Harmon.

Divorced pop psychologist Jack Black (Harmon) dispenses staccato advice over the Seattle airwaves: "Stop whining!" he shouts. "Get over it!" Naturally, he has no idea how to interact with his own kids, 10-year-old Ashley (newcomer Sarah Wayne) and 15-year-old Josh (Joshua Jackson, looking like the leading candidate for "The Greg Brady Story"). They're at an age when they need his attention, but even after whisking them away for a month at a lake-front house in Canada, he's distracted by the chirrup of the cellular phone and a looming book deadline.

Like Loch Ness, the British Columbia town of Glenorky has a mysterious lake monster, a massive creature called Orky. It's spawned tacky tourist tchotkes, attracted a Japanese scientific expedition and has even taken an arm each off the ne'er-do-well Hardy brothers—who may be up to no good.

Smart parents will be able to telegraph the movie's plot points immediately: The kids will stumble onto something. With the monster's help, Harmon will come to realize the importance of family. Someone will say, inevitably, "Orky, I love you!"

Despite these cliches, director and co-screenwriter Rick Stevenson has created some original moments. Recurring slow-motion scenes of fish jumping into a boat manned by two boys suggest the town's mystical nature. A group of men—Harmon soon among them—visits cute town psychiatrist Wanda Bell (Harley Jane Kozak), all suffering from a psychosis that they've been "inhabited" by the monster. Young Ashley first suspects Orky's existence when he noshes on a favorite snack of hers. (How much did Oreo cookies pay, you wonder, to be Orky's junk food of choice.)

And the movie's occasionally funny: Teenager Josh, desperate to be taken seriously by his father, announces of a series of increasingly ludicrous vehicles, "I bet I could drive this."

So, there's a little magic in "Magic in the Water." Just enough, in fact, that you should look out for it when it shows up on television.

MAGIC IN THE WATER (PG) — Nothing too scary, though the father's psychosis may upset some children and the older brother says "damn" and "hell" a few times.

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